GIVE PEACE A CHANCE

Colombia 2017 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Fr. Juan Ubaldo López Salamanca, O.P., General Rector of Universidad Santo Tomas Colombia (USTA), on its growth plans across the country and its contributions to society.

 Fr. Juan Ubaldo López Salamanca
BIOGRAPHY
Fr. Juan Ubaldo López Salamanca, O.P. was ordained as a priest in 2007. In addition to his religious vocation, he has undergraduate degrees in public accountancy, philosophy, and theology and a master’s degree in pedagogy. Within the Dominican Order of Colombia, he has served as prior of the Convent of Santo Domingo de Guzmán in Tunja; Master of Prenovicios; administrative and financial director of Universidad Santo Tomas’ campus in Villavicencio; professor; researcher in humanities, economics, and human development; missionary in Aruba, and a province trustee, among others.

What are your strategies for further expansion around the country?

Our mission is to follow the students in every aspect of their life and that is why we have campuses in Bogotá, Tunja, Bucaramanga, Villavicencio, Medellín, and one distance learning campus that covers 23 medium-sized cities throughout Colombia. Our mission is to educate and develop people. We are the oldest university in the country, and with our quality education, our plans for the next 12 years are to educate everyone in Colombia to the highest possible level. We also want to help everyone gain access to higher education. One of our main programs is our long-distance education program, a field in which we are a pioneer. This allows people and students from all over the country to access high-quality education.

What responsibilities do you see higher education having in the post-conflict era? How will USTA be involved in the peace process?

We have been waiting for this peace deal for a long time and have been teaching about it for the past couple of years even before the peace deal was signed. Our goal has been to develop people to be aware of events within Colombia. We developed the undergraduate program in Social Communications for Peace, which teaches our students throughout all stages of their education about peace. We wanted to be close to the communities who had to leave their lands because of the narcotics traffic. We work in prisons as well to educate criminals to re-integrate them into society. This is our contribution and commitment to communities and to society. Another important aspect is that we work with territories affected by the war to restore the land to the people from whom it was expropriated. We also have a mission called University Pastoral that is bringing the Dominican humanist though to very distant areas of Colombia and bringing students to places like Los llanos Orientales (Eastern Colombian Plains) for them to be more sensitive and to know more about the people in their country from poor and rural areas. This shows our commitment to the entire country.

What are the main challenges Colombia faces in ensuring the peace process is successful?

People must know the details of the process, something most Colombians have not learned yet. Second, we must teach people to be more sensitive to the fact that Colombia needs to live in peace and that from this peace a great many development opportunities will spring. As part of this, we must understand that accessing southern parts of Colombia, such as the Amazon region, will be critical and difficult. The last is the politicization of the peace process. We need to get rid of this polarization because the peace deal will bring peace to the country, no matter which political party one is involved with. The peace process will bring development to the entire country and the political process has to be credible for the good of the country.

What are the next steps for USTA's development?

We have a 2016-2019 general development plan, and a 2016-2027 comprehensive multi-campus plan. Our main goal is to internationalize and build our multi-campus strategy because we want to be committed to the peace process. This year we launched this project and participated in institutional accreditation. Our goal for 2017 is to implement our vision of being a high-quality institution. We also have ambitious plans in terms of rankings and would like to be a top university in the country. We also have a very ambitious budget. Our plan is to better ourselves as an institution both in Bogotá and nationwide. We also want to enroll more locals.